The X-Files
The Quest for a Mechanical Rapprochement of Quartz-Accuracy

An inside report of De Bethune SA, La Chaux l'Auberson

by Magnus Bosse, November 2006

Part 5
click on small images to view full-size ones!

5. The current De Bethune Collection - Part II
This remaining part of the De Bethune collection shall serve as an indication as to where this brand is imagining itself in the market - avantgarde
watchmaking and designwork. The watches shown here are certainly much less than the previous ones destined and palatable for the majority of the watch aficionados, and even I myself have to admit that it sometime took quite some effort to overcome initial resentiments. However, it is always important to apporach novelties with an open mind. I tried my best and here we are with some impressions of the

  • Digitale
  • GMT Automatic
  • Maxichrono

Lean back, have fun and enjoy!

5.1 The De Bethune Digitale (Jumping Hour & Minute, Triple Date, Spherical Moon; handwind):
This culmulation - and simultaneously the antithesis? - to the DBS and DBL watche series is the Digitale. Its rather austere appearance comes from the entire lack of any hand on the golden face: On a finely applied sea of Geneva waves three windows display, from the top down, the date (weekday, date, month, in one row!) and the minutes and hours. On top of this resides the screwed-on De Bethune Logo. Depending on the angle of view, the effect of the stripes is quite dramatic, and reveals the savoir faire of decoration at De Bethune nicely.
Dial structure and displays accentuate the vertical axis of this watch, only contrasted by three islands of rubies which serve to fis wheel axes: A symbol for the triptychon of complications: Triple Date, Jumping hours and minutes, and the signatory Moonphase. Moonphase?

Yes, turn the watch and you will find yourself catapulted into the orbit like an astronaut with the Space Shuttle. Residing in an outer space with stellar constellations (see Ursa Minor?), the moon takes his even, orderly path. Rarely is much more drama and space (in a literal sense) reserved to the moon.
Other then that, the watch houses the Cal. 2014D movement with the IOS 3, enabling for 9 days of power reserve.

Why do I consider this watch at the same time the apogee and the contradiction of the DBS/DBL? Now, this watch is a small provocation: No dial in a common sense - yet the face draws all attention. Clearly showing its pedigree in the DBS - but yet, the window concept has no roots in those watches. An astronomic watch: our calendar is clearly derived from the course of the moon - but the moon, he driving force, has been removed from instant visibility to the back (is this now an emphasis or an attenuation, or irony?). It contradicts itself: a mechanical, analogue watch - yet all indications are digital. This watch has so many secrets and stories to tell, the I can only say that I raise my hat against the genius who devised this concept!

5.2 The De Bethune GMT Automatic (DB20) (Hour, Minute, 2nd Timezone, Power Reserve; automatic):
No torpedo lugs? No flat case? No heart-shaped movement? Well, still truely De Bethune: This watch is a sizeable departure from the existing aesthetic theme, but not from the fundamental concept of original movement in orginal cases. This new family, at De Bethune affectionately christened "Dream Watches", reveals another face of this vibrant company: the creation of entirely modernist watches which virtuously play with aesthetic elements, new materials and sometimes irritating interpretations of traditional concepts.
The GMT Automatic, also called DB20, comes with the first De Bethune in-house automatic movement which is not derived from a historical one. A vigilant observer of De Bethune instantly assumes that also this new engine is loaded with technical delicacies, and right he or she is. But I will as always start with the clothes of this watch. First you notice is the unusual hefty case with a diameter of 45mm with massive lugs, attached to the case by hexagon sockets. Longitudinal kerfs accentuate the vertical axis and add some visual airiness to the otherwise bold design. The massive bezel features two layers, a polished lower one and a brushed, massive upper one with beautifully heat-blued polished titanium markers for every hour. Strikingly, the bezel has an unusual porthole shape with emphasis on each uneven hour. What seems like a rather weird combination (of 30 pieces for the case alone!) actually works quite well:
Under a sapphire crystal with double-sided anti-reflective coating the designers placed a very technically oriented dial. It makes successfully use of a deliberate contrast of materials, colours and shapes. The basic theme is a sandblasted, darkened steel dial with an inner sector of steel adorned with Côtes de Genève and anglaged edges. This ensemble is framed with a steel ring with dark minute markers. The hands continue the dark/lucid tension with their complex design of polished steel on a darkened chassis.
All indications originate from the central plate: From top, there is a horizontal power reserve (5 days!) gauge, then the minute and hours hands and below, set in a heat blued steel plate, the jumping second timezone with a day/night indicator. Surprisingly for a travel watch, there is no date.
While De Bethune already introduced the tandem of titanium and platinum for the IOS balance design, the construction team around Denis Flageollet went a step further and applied it also for the automatic winding system of the Cal. DB2024. The rotor features a light titanium scaffold on whose outer side a platinum weight (barely visible, around the escapement between the "No 01" and the "Swiss" inscriptions on the back crystal) is mounted. This again results in a high inertia/mass ratio, as in De Bethune's own balance.
If you look closely, De Bethune also implemented another element from there: the shock-protection system. The rotor is mounted with the central trefoil-shaped plate with four "leaves", each carrying three rubies. These rubies press the rotor agains outer portion of the ball bearing (hidden), and thus provide for some protection against heavy shocks. The energy delivered by the rotor is fed into two mainspring barrels, which drive - in this case - an IOS 3 balance running at 28.800 bph.
The entire movement is, quite a match to the concept!, of rather technical, but very elaborate and beautifully executed finish with highlighted "spokes" on the main plate:
4.2 The De Bethune Maxichrono (DB21) (Hour, Minute, central Chronograph; handwind):
Finally, the most controversial watch: the Maxichrono, or De Bethune DB21! Clearly of similar breed than the GMT Automatic (45mm case as well with similar design), this impressive Chronograph is at the same time more traditional as it is avant-garde. Traditional, because it is equipped with a round dial and a monopusher mechanism operating on column wheel(s!). Avant-garde, not only because of the overall case design, but also because of unique fact that all hands are coaxially mounted in the center of the dial, and of course because of the movement: I mentioned already column wheels in plural, there are three of them, two visible on the back and one on the dial side, plus an eccentrically located vertical clutch.

The golden dial has a stepped, matte silver surface on five different levels, one level for each indication, arranged to ensure optimal legibility. From the time scale (roman hour numbers) beginning outwards, the Chronograph minutes and seconds counters are located. Only the slowly moving hours counter ring sits in the center, as this slowly moving hand would hide the other indications. Interestingly, the Chronograph functions are not only unusually displayed, they are equally unique in their conception: Both seconds and minutes counter count 30sec and 30min, respectively, and the hour counter up to impressive 24h. The reason again is, as claimed by De Bethune, to improve the readability of the indication. With only 30 units spread over 360°, the hands have much space to discriminate between the smallest timing differences. All chronograph functions BTW are recorded in constant progression, and are not of instant or semi-instant (like in most conventional chronograph movements) construction; a real analogue time measurement.
However, and this is my personal view, I find it a bit irritating to read a 30min (chronograph minute counter) and a 60min (time minute hand) indication concentrically located on one dial. This at least takes some efforts to get used to, and while the timing resolution surely is quite high, the instant readability of elapsed time suffers.
The uniqueness of the watch finds its counterpart on the other side: the movement (Cal. DB2034) is a technical tour de force. Next to already extensively discussed De Bethune "hallmarks" (5 days power reserve, IOS 3, 28.800 bph, 43 jewels), put in place by skeletonised and blued titanium bridges, three small column wheels serve as operation control for the chronograph (see image below, the two column wheels on the back: one at 1 o'clock, the second at 8 o'clock):

The coaxial arrangement of the Chronograph works caused some spatial limitations, thus De Bethune chose to rely on multiple column wheels to faciliate the control of the stop works. The return-to-zero function has to be controlled by two column wheels, whereas the start/stop function is controlled by only one column wheel. Thus, three column wheels are needed to control the Chronograph: 1 for start, stop and reset of chrono second, 1 for minute counter reset and 1 for hour
counter reset located at the dial side.
The column wheels are relatively small in diameter and perfectly covered by the titanium bridges. Remarkably, they are supported on both sides in ruby settings (large image below and small images, left).
The start/stop function is operated by a vertical clutch (the red gold coloured two wheels in the center of the pic below (and small images, middle), note also the elegantly swung reset lever!), a coupling system that ensures smooth engagement and disengagement of the Chronograph works with the going train. Finally, an IOS 3, is used, this time with a comparatively short triple para-chute bridge on top.


The watch is an interesting technical solution for sure. The movement is a watchmaking masterpiece, wonderfully executed with fine materials in perfect craftsmanship. Modern and old techniques and materials rarely mate that troublelessly and free of lackadaisical attitudes.
However, I find the technical concept a bit perplexing. The centrally located Chronograph hands are a most welcome idea, but, as written above, are a bit cumbersome with the 30sec/30min counter layout. This is not intuitive nor consequent at all. Furthermore, the use of three column wheels to control at least partly the same function of different counters seems to me, albeit seemingly a necessity because of the overall coaxial Chronograph indication (making it necessary that its train somehow cramps around the central axis), prone to inconsistencies and problems with coordination. Great care has to be taken while assembling and adjusting the movement.
But this should not hide my great excitement about the existence of this watch, so unusual and original, so fascinating to look at from both sides, so clearly a non-derivative product that I can only applaud De Bethune to having the guts to create this!

A Final Verdict:
There are great watchmaking companies, there are the true manufactures, there is the mass of everything, and there are the lone fighters of independent watchmakers.
De Bethune is nothing of these, but still they are something like a blend of all of them as well (I take out the mass here...!). What is so amazing and noteworthy of this is that the result is not a boring mix witout a face. Quite the opposite is true!
De Bethune is a small cell in the universe of watchmaking, highly active and always ready to shake our minds with concepts not exactly compatible with John Q. Public's taste. The very low production volume leaves room for this, as no massive production capacities and workforce have to kept busy (which means large production, which causes more mainstream designs...). It is exactly this what takes them apart from so many others, and what makes me sure that this company is there to survive in its niche.
De Bethune managed to strike a successful balance between the interior and the exterior, between the engine and the coachwork. With the increasing technical departure from the commons, the case and dial design follows suit. But neither technique nor aesthetics ever lose completely track of what I would call "functional inspiration", adding massively to the charm of this concept.
On the technical side, I have would say that from my layman perspective the solutions offered by De Bethune seem to address crucial probelms in mechanical watchmaking. just recall the IOS system, which not only employs modern materials, but also unusual techniques in production. They are elaborate and depend on significant expertise in construction, adjustment and assembly.Take for example the UV glueing of the two components of the balance spring. This is unheard of and on the first view contradicting to the delicate nature of the balance spring. I can not comment on the technical merit and long-term oerformance. but at least De Bethune claims to have this system tested for a long time and, importantly, also in different movements from outside manufacturers. It would be great to see a ceteris paribus analysis to prove the advantages of this system.
If you are a person with a wide interest in a vast set of different or even opposing topics (be it digital cameras and antique Gobelins, for example), you will never get tired about this ever dramatical but never affected blend of modern and traditional technology. This is why I think of De Bethune as the watch for a 21st century Gentleman. An urban, polyglott gentleman who inguinously oscillates between the antipodes of modern life without ever having to rely on anything else than their own personality. Such men would not drive a Bentley, but a Bristol!



I want to thank Angela Landone, Denis Flageollet and Jean-Jacques Cochet from De Bethune for accepting me as guest, answering all my questions and introducing me to the fascinating world of De Bethune watches.
Thanks also to Suitbert Walter from for an intensive discussion of the technical aspects and others for expert proof-reading. All mistakes are nontheless my responsibility.
The images are taken with a Nikon Coolpix 5400 (workshop photos) and an Olympus E-1 digital SLR with a 35mm Zuiko ZD Macro lens, a remote flash and a self-made perspex lighthouse.
Part 1 - The Introduction
Part 2 - Watchmaking at De Bethune today
Part 3 - De Bethune's bespoke movements and its unique "spider" balance assembly
Part 4 - The current De Bethune collection - Part I
Part 5 - The current De Bethune collection - Part II


Magnus Bosse © November 2006 Last update 04 January 2007

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